SF Picasso Thief Pleads Guilty

He "had a taste for the finer things and didn't like to pay for them," said DA.

Thursday, Oct 27, 2011  |  Updated 6:26 PM PDT
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Lefty O'Doul's, a shop next door to the gallery, has video of the man who allegedly yanked a Picasso drawing off a gallery wall and then got in a cab with it.

Lefty O'Doul's, a shop next door to the gallery, has video of the man who allegedly yanked a Picasso drawing off a gallery wall and then got in a cab with it.

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A New Jersey man who stole a drawing by Pablo Picasso from a gallery near San Francisco's Union Square in July pleaded guilty Thursday to grand theft.

Mark Lugo, 31, of Hoboken, N.J., walked into the Weinstein Gallery at 383 Geary St. near Union Square on July 5, then walked out with a Picasso pencil-on-paper drawing titled "Tete de Femme" valued at $275,000 and fled in a waiting taxicab, police and prosecutors said.

Lugo was arrested the following day after police used surveillance video footage and eyewitness accounts to track him to a hotel in San Francisco, then to an apartment in Napa where he was staying with friends.

The drawing was in good condition when it was found, but had been taken out of its frame. It appeared Lugo was planning on having it shipped somewhere, although investigators do not know what its planned destination was.

After initially pleading not guilty in San Francisco Superior Court to charges in the case, Lugo today pleaded guilty to one count of grand theft in exchange for a 16-month prison sentence.

But because of the state's new realignment law, Lugo will only spend about four-and-a-half months in county jail before being set free.

He will then be extradited to New York, where he is facing charges of stealing 11 different pieces of artwork from Manhattan galleries and hotels that were discovered in his apartment after his arrest in the San Francisco case, prosecutors said.

Lugo is also accused of stealing several expensive wines from a store in Hoboken.

He "had a taste for the finer things and didn't like to pay for them," District Attorney George Gascon said at a news conference this afternoon following the guilty plea.

Gascon said the case "really illustrated community participation at the highest level" since the arrest was made with the help of a neighboring business, the restaurant Lefty O'Doul's, whose surveillance cameras caught Lugo walking away from the gallery.

Rowland Weinstein, who owns the gallery the drawing was taken from, said he was extremely pleased to have the case resolved and have the drawing returned.

"The piece is a love affair of mine," Weinstein said. "It's a quintessential Picasso image."

He said the gallery has boosted security since the theft, adding surveillance cameras and a security guard.

Gascon said the case also shows the importance of security cameras since Lefty O'Doul's footage helped nab Lugo.

Nick Bovis, owner of the restaurant, said "as merchants, we all try to stick together."

Bovis said he has since added more cameras and gave police footage of suspects wanted for the theft of jewelry from another nearby store on Geary Street on Wednesday morning.

Lugo's defense attorney, Douglas Horngrad, had criticized the high bail of $5 million that his client was initially held on, but said "after all the hoopla has died down, the sentence is more in line with the crime."

Horngrad said it appeared Lugo suffered some sort of "psychotic episode" since all of the thefts on both sides of the country took place over the course of a month, while he had no prior major criminal history.

Horngrad pointed out that the case also proves a little publicity never hurts the price of artwork.

The Picasso drawing was bought by Weinstein for $125,000 just months before the theft, but its value has since more than doubled.

"Any amount of publicity will add cache value to a piece," Weinstein acknowledged. "It's certainly not worth less than it was before."

He said the drawing will be reinstalled at the gallery in the near future.

Lugo will return to court on Nov. 21 to be sentenced, then will be picked up by New York authorities to face the pending charges there.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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